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Nalsar slams leaked Disability Rights Bill 2013 that makes ‘mincemeat’ of rights & may pass for political points

Nalsar VC: Faizan Mustafa
Nalsar VC: Faizan Mustafa
Nalsar Hyderabad has called on politicians to scrap the cabinet draft of the Disability Rights Bill that was leaked to activists in late January 2014, and which undoes much of the positive proposals put forward in the original committee’s codification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that India ratified in 2007.

How did we get here?

The government has had a positive obligation to bring Indian disability laws in line with our international obligations, and set up a committee of government officials, representatives of states, persons with disabilities and other experts, to draft a law detailing the rights and entitlements of persons with disabilities.

An urgent need was felt for the law, since it has been noted that general statements of rights, are often not extended in substance to persons with disabilities (such as the right to vote, which is thwarted by issues of accessibility and disqualification). The hope was for the law to intervene to make fundamental rights realisable for persons with disabilities.

The committee in question drafted a law in consultation with civil society and the disability sector, published the draft law in 14 Indian languages (and Braille) and traversed the nation for consultations in all states. Once the final draft was created in 2011 [link (PDF)], the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment took over. The Ministry published a diluted draft in 2012 [link (PDF)].

Rushing an empty bill for political points

Since then, the struggle has been to have it passed in Parliament. On January 22 2014, with general elections just round the corner, a draft was leaked from the Ministry of Law; the draft bears no resemblance to the legislation that had been painstakingly put together by the stakeholders in 2011. This draft has, to date, not been made public by the Government, which is seeking to pass it now, before the Lok Sabha's term ends, without debate or consultation, as an obviously politically expedient measure.

The draft runs counter to the very ethos of the UN CRPD. It is an empty articulation of rights, without any concrete obligations or remedies, that would do gross disservice to the millions of persons with disabilities across the country who are clamouring for the enactment of the law that they participated in the making of, not the one that is likely to be passed, shrouded in secrecy.

Scrap the Bill! It makes mincemeat of the rights and entitlements of persons with disabilities and kills hopes and aspirations of a progressive law to replace the existing 1995 Act which is not in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

Why are we asking for the Bill to be scrapped?

Breach of Trust

The 2013 Cabinet-approved Bill bears no resemblance to the draft that was created through consultations with civil society in fourteen Indian languages (and Braille) across all States.

Negates the Benefits of the Existing Law

Requirements of reservation, non-discrimination, accessibility, etc. can only be applied to ‘establishments’ under the law. The Supreme Court has held in 2013 that establishments must include private institutions. Instead, the proposed Bill has the most restricted definition possible, covering only institutions that are aided, funded or owned by the government.

Disabled peoples’ organisations have also used courts to ensure that reservations in jobs are calculated corresponding to the total number of vacancies and not to the number of posts identified by the government on the basis of perceived ‘capability’. The Bill is reversing this gain that was won from the Courts.

Permits Discrimination

The 2013 Bill explicitly permits discrimination against persons with disabilities in certain (unspecified) situations.

Continues with Exclusion

The 1995 Disability Act was only applicable to a limited number of impairments, the Bill on the other hand covers a longer list of impairments and increases reservation in government jobs. However, since the Bill does not repeal existing laws which prevent those who were earlier excluded from contracting or taking up employment, it continues to exclude. Furthermore, the Bill explicitly states that its provisions are in addition to existing exclusionary laws and does not override them.

Rights without Remedies

The Bill only makes pious declarations as it fails to provide any effective remedies to ensure the enforcement of the rights.

What is the alternative?


The 2011 Bill takes everyone on board, in terms of widening the definition of “persons with disability” and covers all workplaces, educational institutions, hospitals and healthcare providers, government services, private organizations/bodies/societies and so on. The protections in the Bill are against both government agencies and private individuals/organizations/bodies.

Liberty and Equality

The right to be able to fight for one’s own rights, to take one’s own decisions, to do what makes one happy is an integral part of a life with dignity. The 2011 Bill recognises this by ensuring that no person can lose the right to make their own decisions and live their lives according to their own light. It prohibits forced confinement in institutions, which the relevant clause in the 2013 Bill fails to do.

Protection against Discrimination

The 2011 Bill prohibited discrimination which emanated from disability, perceived disability, or by reason of association with persons with disability and also if it happened in a combination of disability and any other ground such as gender, race, caste etc.

Positive Obligations on the State

The Bill creates specific schemes that the government must undertake to ensure that the rights enumerated, such as education, health, employment, social security and leisure, are fully realisable for all persons with disabilities. The government needs to take proactive steps to protect the interests of vulnerable groups (like women, dalits, aged individuals) over and above the basic minimum. For example, the section on social security provides:

“all persons with disabilities shall have a right to social security which includes but is not limited to securing adequate standard of living for persons with disabilities and their families in terms of food security, shelter, housing, social care, pension, unemployment allowance, health care, medical support, medical and life insurance.“


The 2011 Bill envisaged an independent regulatory authority as well as specialised tribunals set up to redress the grievances of persons with disabilities and their families. These chapters have been completely deleted from the present Bill.

What next?

Two per cent of the Indian population are persons with disabilities, whose rights are jeopardised by the present Bill.

The flaws in the 2013 Bill that have been detailed above are glaring, but not exhaustive: making an exhaustive list would require a whole book. In such a situation, it is simply impossible to ‘rescue’ this Bill and pass it with amendments. NALSAR is of the firm belief that the only viable way ahead, that does not compromise the aspirations of millions of persons with disabilities, is to revert to the draft made after consultation, and debate that in Parliament.

The University urges political parties across the board to put disability rights in their manifestoes in the upcoming elections, and promise to work in cohesion towards passing a robust law as the first major legislative activity of the new Parliament.

Further reading

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